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Parrot Zik 2.0 review: A wireless headphone for hardcore tech fans

Parrot's second-generation Zik is impressively engineered, with features up the wazoo. While it may wow some people, others might find it intimidating.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Parrot released its original Zik wireless active noise-cancelling headphone a few years ago, and the moment it did its engineers began working on the next version of it. For Zik 2.0, which comes in six colors and also costs $400 (£300 UK, AU$500), Parrot once again worked with French designer Philippe Starck, and the new headphone is a clear improvement over the original except for its battery life.

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7.8

Parrot Zik 2.0

The Good

The Parrot Zik 2.0 Bluetooth headphone is lighter and more comfortable than the original Zik, it has a slick, eye-catching design and excellent build quality, plus a wealth of features, including wireless audio streaming, effective noise-cancellation, and touch-sensitive controls on the right earpiece. Also, the sound is very good for Bluetooth, and the battery is replaceable.

The Bad

Battery life is mediocre; despite its high price, only a basic cloth carrying case is included; companion app is a bit buggy.

The Bottom Line

Sporting impressive design and solid sound, Parrot's feature-packed and pricey Zik 2.0 wireless headphones will wow some users but intimidate others.

Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones product photos

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Parrot redesigned the headphone from "the ground up to address users' feedback," and the most immediate difference you'll notice is a weight loss. Thanks to a move from iron to aluminum and some other design alterations, the headphone is now about 17 percent lighter, going from 325 grams to 270 grams (including the battery).

That's a big deal, because the original model, despite offering excellent sound and good comfort, was a little too heavy. It now feels significantly lighter, and I also thought the headphone itself felt a little more comfortable. (Parrot says the earcup is more spacious on the inside.)

The finish on the headphone has also been changed from a soft-to-the touch plastic to a swanky, faux-leather finish. In all, the headphone looks sleeker and makes more of a fashion statement, particularly if you go with one of the brighter color options. That said, its design won't appeal to everyone.

One thing to watch out for is accidentally turning off the headphones when you remove them from your head. That's because the power button is in a spot on the side of the headphone where your thumb might land when you're pulling them off.

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The new Parrot Zik 2 is about 20 percent lighter than the original.. Sarah Tew/CNET


Loaded with high-tech features

When it was released, the original Zik was one of the most high-tech headphones on the market. Zik 2.0 is similarly packed with features. It has touch controls on the right earpiece that allow you to adjust volume, pause your music, answer calls, and skip tracks forward and back with a swipe of your finger. Some have said that those touch controls aren't quite as responsive as the touch controls on the original Zik -- and maybe they're not -- but I didn't have a problem using them.

I've always thought the touch controls are a great convenience feature, but some people don't like them because you can end up accidentally pausing your music when adjusting the headphone on your head. If you are one of those people, fear not, you can turn off the touch controls from the companion Zik 2.0 app, which is available for iOS and Android smartphones (the app works on tablets but isn't available yet natively for tablets, so the resolution isn't what it should be).

That companion app allows you to tweak your EQ settings, import custom settings from various artists, and raise and lower the intensity of the noise cancellation. By simply sliding your finger up and down on your smartphone screen, you can choose between several NC settings, including one that lets ambient noise into the headphone and one that's designed for airplane travel. The noise-cancelling worked well on the streets of New York and inside the New York City subway system. Like with other noise-cancelling headphones, there is a faint hiss when you turn the noise cancelling on to max levels.

I should note that Parrot has leveled up the internal tech with a higher-grade DAC (digital-to-analog converter), which it says creates cleaner sound, as well as better noise-cancelling. It has also equipped with the headphone with eight microphones, including a couple that are used for making voice calls (I made several "business" calls using the Zik 2.0 as a headset, and it performed well according to the people I was talking to.

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You can completely customize the sound profile (EQ) of the headphone using the touchscreen on your smartphone or tablet. David Carnoy/CNET

That's not all. There's a bone-conduction sensor in the right earpiece that's suppose to help pick up low frequencies of your voice better for phone calls, NFC tap-to-pair technology, and a sensor in the right earpiece that detects when the headphones aren't on your head and automatically pauses the music when you rest them on your neck (you can turn this feature off from within the app).

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The level of noise-cancelling can also be adjusted from within the app. David Carnoy/CNET

One of the features that's missing is aptX support. ( AptX is supposed to improve the sound quality of streaming over Bluetooth, though it's unclear how much of a difference it makes.)

And one that hasn't improved is the battery life. It's still around 6 hours with both Bluetooth and noise-cancelling activated (it's Bluetooth 3.0, by the way). But on longer flights, you can listen to the headphone in wired mode (a cable is included) with the noise-cancelling activated and get up to 18 hours of battery life. If the battery dies, you can also continue using the headphone as a wired headphone, though it doesn't sound so good with the power off.

I did have some trouble getting the headphone out of airplane mode. In the app, I thought I'd be able to toggle the airplane mode on and off, but I couldn't. Once I was in airplane mode, the Bluetooth was basically turned off, the app could no longer find the headphones, and airplane mode was permanently fixed to "on." I ended up re-installing the app and repairing the headphones to get everything back to normal. I'm not sure if this is a bug or not, but anytime you get an app involved with a device, especially over Bluetooth, you're probably going to run into some snafus. In other words, don't expect the Zik 2.0 to operate flawlessly, though it should become more reliable with time.

On a more positive note, I was able to perform firmware updates without a problem over Bluetooth. (With the original Zik, I had initially had problems with wireless firmware upgrades and had to upgrade over a PC's USB connection.) And while I had a few dropouts, overall the wireless connection between my test phones and the headphones was steady.

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Editor Josh Goldman happily modeling the heapdhones. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

As far as sound goes, it's quite good for a Bluetooth headphone and an improvement over the original's sound quality, with better bass. But at the same time, competitors have also improved the sound quality of their Bluetooth headphones, so the Zik 2.0 doesn't stand out quite as much, particularly at its price point.

I compared it to the Beats Studio Wireless , which costs slightly less and also features noise-cancelling. Because you can tweak the sound of the Zik 2.0, it's very hard to compare it to another headphone that has a fixed sound profile. What I found is that the Zik 2.0 sounded better with some tracks while the Beats was superior with others.

For instance, with Spoon's "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," the Parrot sounded more dynamic and cleaner, but with Laura Welsh's "Breathe Me In," the Parrot exhibited noticeable sibilance and gave a harsh edge to her voice. I played around with the Parrot's EQ and turned the concert-hall effect on and off (it's supposed to adjust the width of the soundstage), but the harsh edge remained.

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The Zik 2.0's battery is replaceable. David Carnoy/CNET

Bass performance is quite good. Wyclef's Jean's "Divine Sorrow - Extended Mix" had some real kick to it and held together well with the volume pushed up. Overall, the headphone performs well with EDM (electronic dance music) and hip hop, but vocals (midrange) don't come across as warmly as I like, so ballads and acoustic material sound more pleasant on the Beats.

I next compared the Zik 2.0 to the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless , which carries a list price of $500. The Sennheiser sounded smoother as a Bluetooth headphone and significantly better when both were put into wired mode.

Alas, Bluetooth headphones -- even premium ones -- simply can't match the sound quality of a decent wired headphone. In other words,you can find any number of $200 (or less) wired headphones that sound as good or better than this Parrot when its used in its wireless mode.

Conclusion

The Parrot Zik 2.0 is an impressively engineered, strikingly designed headphone that's loaded with features and is an improvement over the original Zik, both in terms of design and performance. I think some people will love it. But I also think it has some small, niggling issues that may grate on some users, making them feel the headphone has been over-engineered and is too complicated to deal with (a lot of people don't want to bother with EQ and noise-cancelling settings or an app in general).

And then there's the battery life. If you have everything turned on and are using these continuously, you simply won't make it through the entire day without recharging. That's not necessarily a deal-breaker, especially since you have to weigh that negative against the positive of the battery being user-replaceable. But ideally, battery life would be closer to 10 hours rather than 6.

In the end, this is a riskier Bluetooth headphone choice than something like the Beats Studio Wireless or Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear . Many will be happy they took the risk, but others may be less thrilled.

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7.8

Parrot Zik 2.0

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 7Value 7